Korea

Activity Continues at Uranium-Enrichment Plant at North Korea’s Yongbyon Facility

Written by David Axe

ctivity continues in the uranium-enrichment plant at North Korea’s Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, according to one think tank.

“River-dredging continues,” 38 North analysts Frank Pabian, Jack Liu and Jenny Town reported after scrutinizing satellite imagery. “[W]e also note the addition earlier this year of an elevated conduit at the Radioisotope Production Facility that connects the RPF to two nearby industrial-type buildings.”

38 North’s assessment underscores an uncomfortable truth for the United States and its allies. Despite periodic threats and two high-profile summits, U.S. president Donald Trump has not succeeded in convincing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear-weapons program.

“We continue to see activity around the Uranium Enrichment Complex in terms of vehicles, equipment and personnel arriving and departing. Imagery shows what appears to be a white tanker trailer near the far west end of the complex on February 16 or 17 until the morning of March 27, [2019],” 38 North’s analysts wrote.

The truck departed the next day leaving behind a 20-foot cylinder or shipping container next to the nearby gas centrifuge hall. On May 9, a similar tanker trailer had returned to the same location, and a group of more than a dozen personnel were visible inside the courtyard. On the most recent imagery from May 28, the tanker trailer was no longer present, and different personnel were noted within the complex’s courtyard.

The shape of the tanker trailer and the cylinder or shipping container appears consistent with a liquid nitrogen tanker trailer. However, it is difficult to make a positive identification from the available satellite imagery alone. Liquid nitrogen is necessary for operating cold traps in the uranium enrichment process. If this vehicle is a liquid nitrogen tanker trailer truck, then it is likely that it was periodically parked at this location to refill on-site storage tanks.

Our observation, that periodic material transport (e.g., possibly to deliver liquid nitrogen) has continued at the Uranium Enrichment Complex over time, provides a new indicator that the complex is operational, and therefore that it is also most likely producing enriched uranium.

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About the author

David Axe

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad.

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